Industrial cleaning

2nd October 2020


Web p26 27 istock 511094901

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Business & Industry ,
  • Fossil fuels

Author

Susan Evans

Elisabeth Jeffries explores various methods that could help decarbonise UK heavy industry

Furnace temperatures in glass factories require peaks as high as 1,575°C as molten glass is moulded into solids. Fuelled by gas or oil, it is no wonder they are a key target in the UK government's industrial decarbonisation challenge to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

A £50m plant planned at St Helens, Merseyside by non-profit industrial consortium Glass Futures is due to review the process. Trials at the plant will consider alternative fuel systems such as hydrogen, biofuels and hybrid fuel melting technologies, and could reconfigure aspects of the system linked to fossil fuel use. If the findings prove viable, it could radically alter traditional glass industry processes. The plant has received £7.1m in government funding, with more expected from Liverpool City Region Combined Authority.

Researchers need to resolve a range of questions before making the fuel switch, as Richard Katz, founding director of Glass Futures, explains: “Running a glass factory on an alternative fuel could affect raw materials used as well as production efficiencies, changing the fundamentals of manufacturing techniques.“

Reducing industry's natural gas use is critical if the UK is to reach national net-zero targets by 2050, so the glass sector's procedures have come under close examination. Though larger than the cement industry by turnover, it has received less attention in terms of carbon intensity. Strategists at UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), which channels much of the government's decarbonisation research funding relating, now include the industry as a key target. “It's a foundation industry and widely used across the UK economy,“ points out Bruce Adderley, director of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

Along with industries such as steel and cement, as well as the energy sector, the team aims to revisit a range of renewable and low-carbon sources or vectors that are appropriate for carbon-intensive players. The aim is to pinpoint collaborative opportunities and synergies at Britain's main industrial clusters, such as Grangemouth, Teesside, Merseyside, Humberside, and the manufacturing valleys of South Wales.

Blue hydrogen

The use of hydrogen for energy production is one key option. Norwegian oil company Equinor is leading the Hydrogen to Humber Saltend project, which aims to develop a full-scale facility for producing hydrogen from natural gas in combination with carbon capture and storage (CCS). The project will enable industrial customers in Saltend Chemicals Park, where the plant is based, to fully switch over to hydrogen, while the park's power plant moves to a 30% hydrogen-to-natural gas blend. Equinor states that, as a result, the park's CO2 emissions will reduce by nearly 900,000 tonnes per year.

“Reducing industry's natural gas use is critical if the UK is to reach national net-zero targets by 2050“

One of the more established hydrogen production procedures, 'blue hydrogen', involves reforming methane into hydrogen and CO2. Though it could make a contribution to the net-zero target, it has sparked controversy over its reliance on fossil gas, as well as its dependence on CCS – a technology not yet widely available. Blue hydrogen is being given a major push by the UK government. A key challenge for scientists is optimising CCS processes – at least until hydrogen can be made more cheaply from renewable energy ('green hydrogen'). That means reviewing the gas infrastructure, as well as the CCS technologies themselves.

Of course, CCS is possible directly from gas sources, but hydrogen could be appropriate for other reasons. “Capturing CO2 from natural gas is certainly possible, and indeed forms part of the portfolio of projects associated with the industrial decarbonisation challenge,“ says Bryony Livesey, challenge director at UKRI. “That will work well for power production using gas to produce electricity.“ However, she emphasises the need for hydrogen to provide an alternative fuel for various heating processes (including domestic heating) for which capture of the CO2 is impractical: “The current infrastructure is intended to move gas, so we need to ensure it can be designed appropriately to incorporate hydrogen.“ That requires not only allowing the potential for hydrogen made from gas, but also designing in the eventual distribution of hydrogen from renewables in future.

Improving CCS

Though a few oil companies have run pilots or applied CCS in specific settings, it is not yet available at large scale, nor immediately adaptable across industry. Improving CCS is thus a major consideration for full decarbonisation.

“To go from pilot scale to capturing hundreds of thousands of tonnes of CO2 each year is a big step,“ notes Sheena Hindocha, knowledge transfer manager in materials chemistry at UK innovation organisation the Knowledge Transfer Network.

A key part of improving CCS is optimising solvents. A class of solvents called liquid amines is considered suitable for CCS use, but further progress is required for its wider use. “The amount of CO2 captured using the solvents is not high enough,“ says Hindocha. “Scientists are looking at new ways to capture more CO2 in a concentrated form.“ Major players such as the power group Drax are among the companies and organisations investigating ways to improve solvents or find other applications.

Deep Branch Biotechnology, a tech start-up based at Nottingham University, plans to build a pilot plant within Drax's Carbon Capture Usage and Storage Incubation Area at its power station in North Yorkshire. This will extract flue gases from the power station's renewable electricity generation; the gases will be fed to microbes, which can make single-cell proteins for use in fish food and agricultural livestock feeds.

Lithium-sulphur batteries

In the transport and energy sector, researchers are trying to continually improve energy charging and storage systems in order to keep up with the demand for renewable energy infrastructure, as well as the requirement for cleaner mobility.

According to Professor Paul Shearing, chemical engineering principal investigator at University College London (UCL), lithium-sulphur batteries will follow lithium-ion batteries to help meet energy storage and distribution requirements: “Lithium-sulphur batteries provide particularly compelling benefits around cost, energy density per unit weight and safety.“ Among the factors that need to improve, he suggests, are recyclability, cost, energy density, power density and safety.

Lithium-ion batteries may have reached capacity when it comes to fulfilling societal needs, Shearing adds. He suggests that lithium-sulphur could provide useful logistical solutions: “When you consider the shipment of large quantities of lithium-ion batteries, which has some challenges, there are improved safety aspects when it comes to lithium-sulphur because we can ship these cells at zero state of charge.“

UCL is working with seven industrial partners and six other universities in a £55m project known as LiSTAR, funded by the Faraday Institution. It is a considerable sum for a research project; coupled with private sector investment and the increased research funding announced by the government in 2017 (bit.ly/325bFDM), it shows that major resources are now being funnelled into the transformation of industry.


£7.1m A pilot plant in St Helens has received £7.1m from the government to trial alternative fuel systems in glassmaking

900k Hydrogen to Humber Saltend is predicted to reduce Saltend Chemicals Park's CO2 emissions by 900,000 tonnes per year

£55m The Faraday Institution is funding the £55m LiSTAR project investigating the potential of lithium-sulphur batteries

Elisabeth Jeffries is a freelance journalist.

Picture credit: iStock

Subscribe

Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.


Transform articles

IEMA supports call for more ambitious Future Homes Standard

A consortium including IEMA and the Good Homes Alliance have drafted a letter to UK government ministers expressing disappointment with the proposed Future Homes Standard.

26th February 2024

Read more

Global corporations such as Amazon and Google purchased a record 46 gigawatts (GW) of solar and wind energy last year, according to BloombergNEF (BNEF).

13th February 2024

Read more

Three-quarters of UK adults are concerned about the impact that climate change will have on their bills, according to polling commissioned by Positive Money.

13th February 2024

Read more

The reality of delivering net zero is that we need solutions tailored to specific areas. Peter Gudde explores models that local authorities could adopt

15th January 2024

Read more

Heat pump installations in UK homes increased by nearly a fifth last year, with over 200,000 now having been installed across the country.

11th January 2024

Read more

Last year was the warmest ever recorded, surpassing the previous annual high set in 2016 by a large margin, scientists have confirmed today.

9th January 2024

Read more

This year’s COP28 climate summit concluded with an “historic” agreement between countries to “transition away from fossil fuels”, although the final Global Stocktake text has been described as containing “a litany of loopholes”.

14th December 2023

Read more

The huge quantities of data we generate online every day is having an increasingly negative impact on the environment. Chris Seekings examines what is being done to tackle the problem

30th November 2023

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close